Madeira as sweet as wine

Madeira is a Portuguese Island in the North Atlantic Ocean. It is 499 kilometres (310 miles) from the African coast and 998 kms (620 miles) from the European continent.  The Madeira Archipelago, discovered by the Portuguese in 1418, is made up of the islands of Madeira, Porto Santo and the uninhabited islands of Selvagens and Desertas. Madeira has become a very popular tourist destination.

The islands lend their name to a popular Portuguese fortified wine, and a type of fruit cake, for which Madeira wine is an important ingredient.  Madeira also has a reputation for putting on one of the world’s best New Year’s Eve fireworks shows, and for being a good place to party.

Madeira sits atop a massive underwater volcano, which rises for six kilometres from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.  It is a very hilly place, with a large part of the island being over 500 metres above sea level. Parts of the interior of the island are practically inaccessible as it contains many canyons and ravines which are difficult to traverse.

These islands, because of their privileged geographical position and mountainous relief, have a surprisingly mild climate.  Very mild average temperatures, 22ºC in the summer and 16ºC in the winter, and a moderate level of humidity, confer upon these islands exceptional subtropical features.  The seawater temperature is also very mild, because of the influence of the warm Gulf current, presenting averages of 22ºC in the summer and 18º in the winter.

Funchal, the capital of the archipelago, is on Madeira’s south coast, in a beautiful bay washed by the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean and surrounded by tall, green mountains and deep valleys. Funchal was made a city on 21 August 1508 by Royal Charter issued by King Manuel I. It is the most important business, tourist and cultural in the Madeira Archipelago.

Its name comes from a sweet-smelling wild herb called Foeniculum vulgare, more commonly known as fennel, which was abundant there when the first settlers arrived.    

Funchal is the largest municipality in the region and has 10 parishes.  The city of Funchal has plenty of leisure activities to offer. You can visit its magnificent gardens, wander through its picturesque streets and squares with Portuguese cobblestone pavements or simply stop and relax at one of the pavement cafés in the city centre.  Funchal’s museums and historical buildings are also well worth a visit and there are art galleries with works by national and international artists.  The sea breeze around the city’s bay invites you to come and call at Funchal Marina, full of vessels from all over the world.

Caniço is an important tourist centre about 10 km from the Madeiran capital. It has the typical hustle and bustle of a small town and the seaside area in Caniço de Baixo is a real holiday resort.  Its name comes from the huge numbers of garajaus (sandwich terns) that nest here.

The west coast is the sunniest part of Madeira. Washed by the warm, limpid sea, most places have attractive bathing areas tempting you in for a swim. Surfers will find some of the best waves in Europe at the beaches of Jardim do Mar and Paul do Mar.

Many ships call into Madeira, but the best way to get there is to fly.  A number of airlines fly there from various parts of Europe, and Europeans do form the bulk of the visitors.  The language spoken there is Portuguese, but the most common European languages are also readily understood.

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